Why Isn’t This Obvious?


On a quiet two-lane road meandering through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, somewhere between here and there, is a restaurant. The restaurant is rather plain looking, but it fits right in with the style of buildings in the Upper Peninsula, a style people might describe as “backwoods.” The fact that it is a restaurant is easily confirmed by a sign in the dusty, unpaved parking lot. What sets this restaurant apart from all other restaurants in the Upper Peninsula (if not anywhere) are the three red, four-foot-tall letters on the roof that spell out the word “EAT.”

Why on earth would any restaurant need to put the word “EAT” on their roof in four-foot-tall red letters? Everyone who comes to the restaurant knows that you eat when you are at a restaurant – it does not need to be spelled out on the roof. I would compare this to a book that says “READ” on the cover, a car that says “DRIVE” on the door, or a United Way that says “GIVE” on their website.

Hopefully I have your attention because I just called out United Ways for needing to say “GIVE.” Isn’t it obvious that people should give to a nonprofit organization like United Way?


When you think about the restaurant, it looks like a restaurant and has a sign out front with the name of the restaurant. However, most United Ways don’t look like a nonprofit organization to the average person. If United Ways expect people to give, they need to start by making it obvious that United Way is a nonprofit organization.

When you look at other nonprofit organizations, three things are clear – what issue they address, what they are doing about this issue, and their results addressing the issue. At Perspectives, we refer to this as I-A-R, which stands for Issue, Actions, and Results. If United Way is going to look like a nonprofit organization, then people need to see what issue United Way focuses on, what actions United Way is taking to address that issue, and what results United Way is achieving. When people understand the issue, actions, and results of your United Way, they will more easily recognize that your United Way is a nonprofit organization.

Thinking once again about the restaurant, saying “EAT” is not necessary for someone to patronize the restaurant. Similarly, United Ways should not need to say “GIVE” for someone to make a donation. People will naturally know they should give when you have demonstrated your United Way’s issue, actions, and results. Rather than commanding someone to “GIVE,” United Ways should be able to say: “Donating to United Way halts hunger” or “By donating to United Way you are helping end homelessness in our community.” Donors don’t want to “GIVE” to a nonprofit organization – they want to make a difference and change lives.

If your United Way has the equivalent of four-foot-tall red letters screaming “GIVE,” take the time to make it obvious that your United Way is a nonprofit organization and demonstrate that you are focusing on an issue, taking action to address that issue, and achieving results.